Genetic history of modern Europeans a tangled tale, research finds

Wed Sep 17, 2014 2:30pm EDT
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By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The genetic origins of modern Europeans may be more complicated than previously thought.

Ancient people from Siberia who were related to the first humans to enter the Americas during the Ice Age also mingled with prehistoric populations in Europe and left their mark on the DNA of today's Europeans, scientists said on Wednesday.

Their study, published in the journal Nature, is the latest to use sophisticated genetic research to clarify the ancestry of modern populations.

Experts had thought today's Europeans descended from two other groups of people.

The first were primitive hunter-gatherers from western Europe who had lived on the continent since it was first colonized by our species more than 40,000 years ago. The second were farmers who migrated into Europe from a region spanning parts of Syria, Turkey and Iraq around 7,000 years ago.

The new study revealed the role of hunter-gatherers from the Siberian region who the scientists called "ancient north Eurasians."

The scientists sequenced the genomes of a farmer who had lived in Germany about 7,000 years ago and eight hunter-gatherers who had lived in Luxembourg and Sweden about 8,000 years ago. They then compared those findings with the genomes of 2,345 people living today to decipher European ancestry.

"Our study does indeed show that European origins were more complex than previously imagined," said Iosif Lazaridis, a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard Medical School.   Continued...

Members of Russian ensemble perform a traditional Cossack's dance with swords during the opening ceremony of the 3rd Krasnoyarsk Asian-Pacific International musical festival in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, in this file photo taken June 29, 2012. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin/Files